How to Stop Verizon, AT&T, and T-Mobile From Collecting Your Phone Data to Sell Ads

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Photo: Monster Ztudio (Shutterstock)

Social media sites, web browsers, and smartphone apps aren’t the only ways companies track your data: Your phone service provider collects data right from your phone, too. AT&T, T-Mobile (which now owns Sprint and MetroPCS), and Verizon all track location, web, and app usage, and then use that information to sell ads.

Worse, carrier tracking is turned on by default for all users and happens even if you have iOS’s “App Tracking Transparency” or Android’s “Opt-out of Ads Personalization” settings turned on. These settings normally stop apps from collecting certain data, but your carrier tracks you through network activity, not an app, circumventing any on-device do-not-track settings.

To be fair, each phone company offers their customers a chance to opt-out, but they’re so coy about it that most users are probably unaware that they have the option—or that data collection is the default behavior to begin with.

Verizon, for example, sends a boring text message from a random number that, as Inc points out, looks like a low-rent phishing scam or malware attack, including the exact type of nondescript link we’re constantly telling folks not to click on.

If you did open the link, however, it took you to a (now defunct) landing page alerting you to the new tracking policy and giving you a chance to opt-out. This information is still available in Verizon’s full privacy policy, and you can opt-out from the Verizon app under Settings > Manage Privacy Settings, or in the account settings on Verizon’s website under Account > Account Settings > Privacy Settings. Make sure to disable the “Custom Experience” option, as well as any other marketing settings, for each phone line listed.

The other major cell service providers have sent out similar texts and emails to Verizon’s—the kind that most folks will probably immediately delete or disregard as spam. Good news is, it’s pretty easy to opt-out of data tracking practices once you know where to look.

T-Mobile explains how it uses your data in its privacy policy, but you have to go out of your way to look up that information on its website. Luckily, as we’ve previously covered, it’s pretty easy to turn off T-Mobile’s data tracking in your user settings. You can also send “Do Not Sell” requests to T-Mobile, ask the company to delete the data it has stored about you, and opt-out of other marketing and advertising policies from the T-Mobile Privacy Center page.

Like the other two companies, AT&T explains how and why it tracks your data in the company’s privacy policy (spoiler: it’s to sell ads). You can opt-out from your online account settings, but AT&T hides the link to jump straight to the relevant options deep in the privacy center page.

Note that opting out of your provider’s data tracking only affects how the company tracks you; it doesn’t change what data the apps on your phone can see. To keep all mobile data tracking to a minimum, turn on the aforementioned App Tracking Transparency on iOS and turn off Ads Personalization on Android, install a reliable VPN, turn off location data, and choose a browsing app with strict privacy controls.

 

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